The Ballad of Kitty Jay
Paul Johnson | 15 Sep 2013 15:26pm
Based on a true Devon story of a servant girl who was loved by a local farmer’s son but raped and impregnated by a thuggish local yokel, this lyrical new musical will, I think (hope) have a long shelf life. Stimson creates a poignant thoughtful story which has Kitty Jay (Rose Shalloo) haunting a modern story for most of the first half and with pleasing symmetry, Jess (Olivia Stuart) going back a couple of centuries to haunt Kitty Jay’s story for most of the second act.
MTA’s 21 second year students form the cast. They had moved up on the day I saw the show because the outgoing second year had performed their showcases and, officially, left a few hours earlier, although most were in the auditorium cheering on their colleagues. This is a two year intensive course founded by Anne Marie Thomas Lewis in 2009 so the cast of The Ballad of Kitty Jay is the product of just twelve months of training. Talented and slick – directed by Michael Howcraft and choreographed by Carly Hainsby – they do their college great credit.
Shalloo and Stuart play characters which are, in a sense, mirror images of each other. Both girls become pregnant, although the outcomes are different. Shalloo finds warmth, charm and gentle insouciance in Kitty and she’s a fine actor. It will be a long time before I forget the anguish she presents as she turns to face the audience as a lot of unsympathetic people tell her that her baby is dead. Stuart, whose promising career as a defence lawyer is jeopardised by an ill-judged but understandable relationship with a client, is by turns distressed, incredulous, troubled and decisive – with a real moment of tragedy when she finally realises the truth about Kyle (Sam Morgan Grahame who doubles as the rapist and is strong in both roles). Stuart is a fine singer and she has some effective duets with Grahame.
It’s a piece full of cameos and character roles with nearly everyone in the cast having something satisfying to do. Simone Murphy, for example, is delightful as a taunting thuggish girl in a café and then as a circumspect PC. Phil McCloskey has fun in several parts including a revolting po-faced pious clergyman and I enjoyed Chantelle Kemp’s work as the malicious sister.
And so to the music. I have heard several of Annemarie Lewis Thomas’s compositions and I think this is her best yet. She is her own lyricist so there’s a perfect blend between music and words. We move in this show, from rhythmic dances to evocative heart wringing numbers and anthems to connote church. For me a particular high spot is the dance with farm implements in Kitty Jay’s time with fiddle soaring in an accelerating folksy melody which changes key upwards twice to heighten the excitement. And when can we expect her full Requiem? She gives us a very pleasing Agnus Dei in The Ballad of Kitty Jay. It’s a good start.
Of course this show isn’t perfect. The Devon accents, where required, are pretty patchy and in some cases distinctly distorted. And, inevitably, some of the students are better singers than others. But these are minor quibbles about a highly enjoyable evening’s theatre.
- : admin
- : 13/09/2013